The Elephanta caves, in the Bombay harbour, stand on the Gharapuri island, renamed Elephanta after the ruling Portugese found an enormous stone elephant at their landing site in the 18th century (It was subsequently shifted to the Victoria and Albert museum by the British in 1912.
The caves contain some of the most exquisite rock-hewn sculptures in the Deccan. The dating of the caves is shrouded in conflict though they were probably finished some time during the reign of the Silhara kings between the 9th and 12th century. However their use may have started earlier, during the Konkan-Mauryan period. The site is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three entrances to this temple of Shiva-- one from the north, east and west respectively. The main gallery is divided by columns into equal rows and aisles. To the west, and outside this area, is a square sanctuary containing a monolithic Lingam (a phallic icon which represents the concept of Universal Creation). The huge, high-relief works in the main cave, on both sides of the three entrances and on the south wall, are characteristic of the Hindu Shaivite culture and are considered to be among the most perfect expressions of Indian art of their time.
The three-headed bust called the Trimurti is the celebrated Trinity of Elephanta. In the centre is Brahma, serene and impassive. To the left is Shiva, the Destroyer, his face contorted with menace and to the right is Vishnu, the Preserver, gentle and luminous. All three are avatars or incarnations of Shiva\'s cosmic energy.
The superb craftsmanship, engineering and scientific design cause the caves to be illuminated by a subtle play of sunlight. Motor launches from the Gateway for the Elephanta caves start from dawn until 2:00 pm everyday
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